There’s a nip in the air as the jeep winds its way up the hill. A herd of Sambar stands in the middle of the road. Our driver brings the jeep to a halt. The largest of the deer stares hard at us.

It almost seems as if he’s debating whether to let us pass. It’s an uncanny feeling as we lock gazes. Without warning, he turns his head and leads his companions into a thicket of bushes. As the driver sets our jeep in motion, I realise that my toes are tingling from the encounter.

I am at Biligiri Rangaswamy (BR) Hills with my family. The two-hour drive from Mysore saw us climb almost 3,000 feet above sea level. The bustle of the city is a distant memory. It’s a silent world but for the occasional rustle in the dense underbrush of the deciduous forests that surround us.

When we hear the quiet tweep that sounds remarkably like a human voice, our driver declares it to be that of the mynah. He drives slowly and stops to point to a tree in the distance. “It’s a serpent eagle — look at the branch on the rear”. I’m not overly excited as the bird looks uninspiring with its dull brown hues, but that’s before it swoops up with a jerk. I watch it soar and simply can’t tear my eyes away.

A sight to cherish

The crackle of the walkie-talkie cuts across from the driver’s side. He exchanges notes with the other safari drivers, the focus being on animal sightings. After a quick conversation, he revs the engine and makes a sharp turn ahead. I admire the dexterity with which he manoeuvres the vehicle on the bumpy path cutting through sharp branches and shrubs.

When I feel the first sting on my arm, I brush it off thinking it’s a pesky insect. In a few seconds, all of us in the jeep are swatting mosquitoes which appear to have been fed on a mega diet. Our driver is unperturbed at our distress. He is busy turning his head in all directions. “What are you looking for?” “Tiger!” It takes a moment for his words to sink in. Even as I look around in excitement, a shiver runs down my spine. When he gets off the jeep to peer at the ground, I crane my neck to see what’s caught his interest. Pug marks! It’s a heady feeling that we are on the trail of the elusive big cat. We wait. It might have been a few minutes, maybe more. The entire forest seems to have gone silent. I can just feel my heart beating faster.

The sound of a trumpet startles us. The driver takes off like a bat from hell. Suddenly, the trees open up and we are in the midst of a clearing. At the far end, three elephants — a tusker and two young ones — are foraging. They are oblivious to the frenzied clicking of cameras from our jeep. As we head out of the forest, I turn back for another glimpse. A flock of birds flies low over a vast canopy of evergreen trees and a lone fawn stands on the side of the path watching us leave. When I see a cavalcade of jeeps jam-packed with tourists drive past us, reality intrudes.

Getting there

BR hills is 90 km from Mysore (via Nanjangud and Chamrajnagar). Jeep safari rides are conducted by the Jungle Lodges & Resorts at their K Gudi wilderness camp.

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